• The Great Escape


Updated: Apr 29, 2020

The benefits of solar powered travel

We’ve always been big fans of utilising solar power for our caravan/camper trailer/campervan set ups. So when we were planning our most recent caravan build/renovation having an excellent solar and 12v system was an absolute must for us. But why do we love it so much? Lets give you some examples:

Complete freedom

For us the absolute best part about having a great solar and 12v setup is the ability to go anywhere and stay anywhere, without needing to worry about having access to power, or if generators are allowed. We love the complete freedom of being able to stop anywhere, for any length of time, and know that our fridge, lights, fans, usb plugs, and inverter will all be able to keep on running, and keep powering our electronic devices. And when you’re well set up your system just keeps ticking over day in day out without needing to stress about running out of power.

Money savings

The beauty of having that freedom is the money savings as you travel. We don’t have to pay to stay in expensive powered caravan park sites unless we choose to and we don’t have to buy petrol to run a generator. So the money we invested in our solar setup starts to come back to us in decreased expenses once we’re on the road. Our solar setup also makes our caravan that much more sell-able when it comes time to move on.

Life’s little luxuries

Being able to power all these things so effortlessly means that we don’t have to give up on life’s little luxuries while on the road. We can still have ice cream in the freezer, and ice cold beers in the fridge. We can still watch movies on the laptop (or a TV if we wanted one). We can still use our phones. We can still have plenty of lighting, we can still run 12v fans, or a diesel heater and we can use our Redarc pure sine wave inverter to power items like a stick mixer to make smoothies.

Doesn’t make a sound

Many people would argue that instead of a complex solar setup you could just buy a generator to run all your items. And it’s true, for some things like an air conditioner you would need either 240v power or a generator (although this is becoming possible to run on solar with the increase in lithium batteries). But for us we’ve never really understood the appeal of a generator. They’re expensive, heavy and bulky. And they’re a great way to piss off the neighbours because they’re also noisy. Not only that but they can be quite limiting – many places simply don’t allow them, so that impacts on your freedom when it comes to places to stay.

Environmental impact

Of course one of the best things about solar at home or on the road is that it’s a green energy. We love that even when our caravan is parked up in the driveway not being used it still doesn’t cost us in energy or money to keep it running, as the sun continues to power it. Right now our caravan is parked in the front yard, and the last few weeks have been pretty miserable weather – overcast and rainy. But the battery has remained fully topped up, even with us running (and using) the fridge, and staying out there overnight occasionally for a ‘camping’ trip in the front yard.

Our tips

Of course not all solar set ups are equal. We’ve had some fairly average set ups over the years, but we’ve taken everything we’ve learned and put it in to our current caravan build to make sure we have the absolute best set up we possibly can, so we never have to worry about running out of power (there’s nothing more annoying that having to leave a gorgeous campsite earlier than planned because your battery isn’t coping!)

So here’s some of our tips to make sure you get it right: Think about what you’ll be running. Talk to the experts. And get the best you can afford – better to have too much than not enough.

Will you just have a small fridge and a few lights? Or will you be charging 4 phones, a laptop and a drone while running a tv, a large fridge, a rangehood, fans and half a dozen lights? Then think about how long you want these things to run. Will you only have the occasional night off-grid? Or do you go off-grid for weeks on end? It’s also a good idea to consider where you are, and how many sun hours you’re likely to get. Now we’re in New Zealand we made the decision to have slightly more wattage coming from our solar panels than we did in Australia, as we know we’re more likely to spend a longer time in inclement weather than we did in Aus where we pretty much chased the sun all the time and so had good weather more often than not.

Once you have a rough idea of what you want to run, and for how long, you can start to plan how much solar you’ll need, and what size batteries will work best. If you have no idea where to start with this, Redarc has some great planning resources on their website, and their technical support guys are invaluable. When we were planning our build we called them multiple times to discuss our needs, and they were able to help us determine how much solar we’d need to achieve what we wanted.

It’s a bit of a financial outlay to get your RV fully setup to go off-grid with power, so you want to make sure you get it right the first time. If you think you’ll need 300W of solar, get 300W of solar. No point skimping and getting only 200W, then discovering it’s not enough to meet your needs anyway. Same goes for batteries.

If your budget is tight talk to other people or research online to get recommendations on brands and products – can you go slightly cheaper in one area, in order to spend more in another to get the best results? Word of mouth recommendations and advice are worth their weight in gold.

On the whole, we know the whole concept of solar, 12v wiring, and batteries can be hugely overwhelming. But there was once a time when we knew absolutely nothing about it ourselves, and we’ve gone from that to being able to fully wire and install our own system completely from scratch. And it’s such a great system that we can go off-grid indefinitely without needing to worry about our power supply.

We’ve learned to do all that from online research, professional and peer to peer advice, and just getting stuck in and giving it a go. So if we can do it, chances are you can do it too.

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